‘Speak American!’

Two-people-talking-logoA few months ago I was on the receiving end of a fender-bender in Taylorsville. I spent some time standing around and talking with the other drivers who had been hit. After I left one conversation to tend to my bored son, two other drivers continued talking to each other, switching to Spanish. I felt a twinge of envy. To be able to switch between languages so easily!

Although both were fluent in English, it was apparent it was not their first language. Years of effort had gone into their fluency.

Learning another language as an adult is a humbling experience. Many Americans know this, even if their experience was limited to a high school class. With this in mind, I bridle when people expect immigrants to master English with superhuman speed.

Gene Simmons, the well-known linguist lead singer of KISS, is an immigrant who recently admonished today’s immigrants: “Learn to speak [expletive] English. It is the key that will unlock the keys to the kingdom. If you make the effort, then all the possibilities of this culture will open up for you and give you all the rewards that I’ve gotten.”

I can’t disagree with his point about the advantages of learning English and learning it well. Let me point out, however, that he emigrated to the U.S. from Israel when he was 8. It’s a lot easier to learn English and “get rid of your accent” when you’re 8 than later.

The second generation – as has been the case throughout America’s history – is fluent in English and often bilingual.

In recent decades, allowing any room for Spanish – for instance, providing Spanish translation on various official documents – seems to stick in the craw of plenty of English speakers.

Undoubtedly, you should learn the local language if you move to another country. But this is a process that takes years. As an adult learner, I speak rusty German and rudimentary French. If I were living in a country where either of those languages was predominant, I’d speak that language as much as possible. But if I had to sign official/government/medical documents, you can bet I’d want to read a translation in English. (Official language is difficult enough to parse when it’s written in your native language, let alone another.)

Here in the U.S., the adults will learn, slowly, and their children will become bilingual. And if our native English speakers (children and adults) pick up a few words of another language – this is not a bad thing.

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To ease income inequality, smooth the path for innovators — Sutherland Soapbox, 11/4/14

Making_shoe_racks,_Coos_County,_ca._1948_(5670423808)This post is a transcript of a 4-minute weekly radio commentary aired on several Utah radio stations.  

Today is Election Day, so I want to talk about an issue that is the driving electoral message of hundreds of political candidates nationwide. That issue is income inequality.

Now the first thing to understand is that, in a free society, income inequality will always exist at some level. If given the liberty to do so, enterprising individuals will find a way to make more money – in some cases a LOT more money – than their neighbors. If nothing else, the history of our nation is a testament to this: There have always been rich people, middle income people, and poor people.

Of course, to acknowledge this reality as reality is not saying we should accept extreme income inequality simply as a fact of life. When growing income inequality reflects higher barriers to economic mobility for the poor and middle class, that problem must be addressed. For a conservative, this is first because the respect that we owe to the human dignity of our lower-income neighbors as free and reasoning individuals places a moral duty on us to ensure that they have reasonable opportunities to flourish as human beings, including the chance to improve their economic standing. It is also because the thriving free market economy that conservatives value requires a free market economy that is worth living in.

But the sad reality is that many who publicly lament today’s high levels of income inequality have no serious plan for addressing the problem, and are just using the issue to manipulate people’s emotions in order to capture their votes. And in today’s politics, this is especially true among political progressives.

Income inequality has become the latest fad in progressive policy circles, partly driven by an economic recovery to refuses to act or feel like a genuine economic recovery, and partly driven by the popularity of French economist Thomas Piketty’s book Capital in the 21st Century. Predictably, the progressive focus on the issue has been accompanied by calls for higher taxes on the wealthy and increasing the minimum wage, which it seems are the only ideas that progressives ever have about income inequality.

For my part, I have never understood this approach. After all, how is raising taxes and making people unemployable by raising the minimum wage above the market value of the skills of many low-income Americans going to make it easier for them and their families to achieve the American dream?

For those familiar with Piketty’s arguments about income inequality and the criticisms of his argument, the reality of the issue is more complicated than can be solved by simply taking money from the wealthy and attempting to mandate away the problems of the working poor.

A study published last month by the National Bureau of Economic Research identified two conflicting forces underlying income inequality. Encouraging inequality is the entrepreneurial desire to significantly increase one’s income. Limiting inequality is the “creative destruction” caused by disruptive innovations which shift income-earning potential from one individual, business, or market sector to another, thus naturally limiting how much income any one person or business can accumulate.

Among other things, the researchers conclude that policies which prevent entrenched business interests from blocking new innovation and competition will serve to decrease income inequality.

There are many examples of policies that block or limit new competition or innovation. One includes ridiculous professional licensing schemes that require thousands of hours of formal education before a low-income individual can open a business in which they have some basic skill. Another is economic development policies that offer multimillion dollar tax incentives to multi-billion dollar corporations willing to relocate, effectively granting them the privilege of a better effective tax rate than their smaller and often more innovative competitors.

If we seriously mean to address income inequality and economic mobility, then we have to do more than the progressive platitudes of raising taxes and minimum wages. We have to reject calls from those representing big business to protect their privilege to special tax incentives. And above all, we have to genuinely embrace the principle of the free market in our policymaking, and reflect that principle in areas like business licensing and regulation, and economic development policy.

Otherwise, all this railing about income inequality amounts to little more than grubbing for votes.

For Sutherland Institute, I’m Derek Monson. Thanks for listening.

Receive this broadcast each week directly to your iTunes by clicking here

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Eeeek, it’s Al Gore as the Beast!

Lit_Jack-o'-lantern_glowing_menacingly“What could be scarier than an elected official in a Halloween costume?” asks Politico.

Well, plenty of things, but take a look anyway! Click here to see Politico’s slideshow of various officials throughout the decades … and see if you shriek.

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‘If a nation expects to be ignorant and free … it expects what never was and never will be’

Voters line up in Ohio.

Voters line up in Ohio.

These two reports, published six-plus years apart, portray the civic behavior of Utahns as notably estranged from ‘responsible citizenship,’ Utah’s unique, youthful voter-age demographics notwithstanding:

Utah among lowest in nation in political engagement, report says

Study: Utah voter turnout lowest in nation

The solution to the “problem” described in these reports is not simply a matter of increasing the number of people who complete and submit an election ballot – an effort that can merely increase and multiply the effects of ignorance – but rather to increase the level of informed awareness among those who do vote: of the actuality and operation of principles; the cause-and-effect consequences of choices and behavior; of what is required to attain and sustain healthy, functional culture and civil society.

Former Sutherland president Paul Mero often talked about “earned opinion” as being more than merely having ideas one prefers and wishes to share. The value of one’s view is not simply reposed in the fact that s/he has a personal thought or preference but is rather the product of his/her effort first to learn truth and gain some degree of comprehension of its meaning and practical application, and thereby merit the willingness of others to consider that perspective.

In ways not dissimilar, while all citizens have the right to vote, it is folly and an undermining of functional society to seek merely to “get more people to vote.” Perhaps this was a factor underlying Thomas Jefferson’s sage, and prescient, declaration that,

If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be (1816, in a letter to C. Yancey).

Encouraging citizens to exercise their right and privilege to vote – a privilege won and preserved by the blood of patriots – is important and commendable. That citizens exercise this right after having earnestly and meaningfully studied the issues, candidates and predictable consequences is essential.

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That dastardly, poverty-relieving capitalism

Hard_LabourNot that we should give undue attention to actors who opine on economics and politics, but this article has a couple of great charts that show just how ridiculous Russell Brand’s rant against capitalism is.

Click here to read more at AEIdeas.

Here’s more, from The Economist, commenting on how free markets help pull people out of extreme poverty:

Many Westerners have reacted to recession by seeking to constrain markets and roll globalisation back in their own countries, and they want to export these ideas to the developing world, too. It does not need such advice. It is doing quite nicely, largely thanks to the same economic principles that helped the developed world grow rich and could pull the poorest of the poor out of destitution.

And from Utah Citizen Network, here’s an explanation of how free markets have reduced poverty more than any other institution.

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Sutherland commends Gov. Herbert for not calling Medicaid special session

Sutherland Institute commends Governor Herbert for his wise and prudent decision not to call a special session to consider his proposed Healthy Utah Medicaid expansion plan. The question of whether Utah should add a second, private-insurance tier to its Medicaid program for the sake of federal funding is a momentous one. This decision has significant implications and consequences for the most vulnerable Utahns – the single parents, disabled individuals, and children who would be left behind in the lower tier of traditional Medicaid coverage. Additionally, given the long-term fiscal implications of creating a new entitlement program such as Healthy Utah, this decision ought to be considered within a budget process that sheds light on whether future state funding for Healthy Utah could be better utilized if instead spent on essential roles of government such as higher education, transportation, and corrections.

Despite calls from some to short-circuit thoughtful consideration of the details and impacts of Healthy Utah because they believe the decision merits no further evaluation, Governor Herbert made the correct decision and should be commended for recognizing the importance of a thoughtful process for making sound public policy. Sutherland looks forward to continuing this important policy dialogue where it ought to be engaged: in a general session of the Utah Legislature.

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Feeling pushed by lands ‘poll’? Sutherland Soapbox, 10/21/14

Nature's_SymmetryThis post is a transcript of a 4-minute weekly radio commentary aired on several Utah radio stations.  

For those who have ever wondered what a “push poll” looks like, the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank that’s up in arms about the West’s movement to transfer most federal lands to state control, provided a great example a couple of weeks ago.

Their poll clearly demonstrated, at least in their minds, that a majority of Westerners oppose turning over the 50 percent of Western lands that D.C. currently owns to state control. You can see a summary of it here.

This one-sided poll was crafted to support a specific outcome by asking leading questions of very few people across a wide swath of states. Shocking, I know. If either the Center for American Progress or the polling companies involved were capable of being embarrassed, they would have enough red on their faces to paint a barn. But as their purpose was simply to advance a point of view, I’m sure they’re basking in the light they’ve stolen from the rest of us. The world is just a little dumber for their efforts, and while both the left and right are guilty of dishonest polls to either push a viewpoint or raise a buck, this is a particularly egregious example.

The axiom that you get what you pay for is especially true in the polling business, where the wording of a question can lead to desired responses that campaigners can then tout as a “The people have spoken” moment. This poll basically asks people if they would rather see state taxpayers pay for the rape and ruin of public lands or have those lands munificently managed by benevolent federal cherubs gently tending the flora and fauna as they glide effortlessly — and at no cost to the taxpayer — overhead.

Here’s the question they’re most proud of:

Thinking about one idea related to national forests, national parks, wildlife refuges, and other national public lands in your state, would you support or oppose having your state Government and taxpayers assume full control of managing these public lands, including paying for all related costs, including the cost of preventing and fighting wildfires?

Got all that? Continue reading

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Price-gouging, shortages and the free market

Don’t drink the water – or even bathe in it, the city of Eagle Mountain told its residents on the evening of Sept. 29, 2014. The city reported that someone had broken into one of its water storage tanks. There was no way to tell what, if anything, had been put into the city’s water supply, until state testing results came back the following day. The city advised residents not to drink, cook with, or bathe in the water. Not even boiling the water could guarantee it’d be safe to use.

The water advisory was given around 5:30 Monday evening. Two hours later this picture of the bottled water aisle at the nearest Walmart was posted online:


Empty. Some people started posting on social media in anger, yelling at others for hoarding water and not leaving any for the rest. The next day another picture was posted of another nearby Walmart, also with a barren water aisle.

What can we learn from this? First, “be prepared” ain’t just for Boy Scouts or doomsday preppers. The unexpected can happen to you. Store some extra food and water. It’s just smart.

But second, there’s an interesting economics lesson here.

Click here to read the rest of this article at Utah Citizen Network.

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A head-scratching analysis of (dead) American adulthood

questionA story by New York Times film critic A.O. Scott last month declared adulthood dead in the United States. Well, maybe, but his reasons for thinking so are not the ones I’d choose.

Much of his argument seems to rest on the death of patriarchy in pop culture, with a side journey into American literature and history. Go ahead, read the whole meandering thing here.

Among other things, he cringes at the fact that American adults are reading (gasp!) young adult fiction. Well … that might have something to do with the fact that Harry Potter and other high-quality juvenile books are better written than many books aimed at “adults.” (Please forgive those of us “adults” who enjoy plots and moral clarity.)

Scott also sniffs at middle-age men “wearing shorts and flip-flops,” as if they should all be in Cary Grant-type suits 24/7.

David Marcus, in the Federalist, gave Scott’s New York Times piece a big eyeroll:

The first object of Scott’s imagination that needs to be tackled is his argument that “Mad Men,” “Breaking Bad,” and “The Sopranos” are influencing and reflecting a turn away from male adulthood in our culture. …

Scott doesn’t fare much better as he wades into the history of America and its letters to find foreshadowing for our current crisis of masculinity. His readers are treated to a description of the founders of the United States in which they are not fathers, but “late adolescents.” Benjamin Franklin is his primary example, and while it’s true Franklin had his dalliances, he also pretty much invented everything we use in our houses. Meanwhile, the notion that Adams, Jefferson, and Washington were adolescent is really just bizarre. In Scott’s version, the American Revolution is little more than a temper tantrum directed at daddy figure George III.

Click here to read the rest of Marcus’ entertaining critique.

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Infographic: How many drinks per week?

The above chart contains some interesting – and eye-popping – information about American alcohol consumption.

First, 60 percent of Americans either don’t drink at all (30 percent) or, on average, have less than one drink per week (30 percent). But the top 10 percent of American drinkers? Let’s just say their livers might some day be used as an example of how not to treat your body.

What does this mean for public policy? For starters, it suggests that raising alcohol taxes is a fair and likely effective way to combat the social costs of alcohol consumption (e.g., traffic deaths, health problems, and economic harm due to decreased productivity).

Higher alcohol taxes are fair because they amount to a user fee – you only pay if you choose to drink – and because they have minimal impact on the vast majority of responsible drinkers who, in the end, will not drink an exorbitant amount of alcohol, and therefore will pay only a small amount of the increased tax.

And higher alcohol taxes are likely to be effective because, while they will have minimal impact on moderate and responsible drinkers, they will have a significant impact on the problem drinkers that consume mind-boggling amounts of alcohol (taking for granted that having more than 10 drinks per day on a regular basis is difficult for most people to comprehend).

Conservatives tend to hesitate at any call to increase taxes, and rightly so. But thoughtful conservatives also understand that not all taxes are made equal – some taxes are fairer than others; some taxes are less economically and socially harmful than others (and some, like alcohol taxes, can even be beneficial for society); and maintaining a reasonable level of taxes is necessary for good government.

Alcohol taxes – and specifically the policy of increasing alcohol taxes from current levels – fall into this category of a fair, beneficial (or at least minimally harmful), and reasonable tax, when given thoughtful consideration.

Click here to learn more about Sutherland’s position on alcohol policy in Utah.

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How states that take the federal bait end up on the hook – Sutherland Soapbox, 10/14/14

Fisherman_and_his_catch_SeychellesThis post is a transcript of a 4-minute weekly radio commentary aired on several Utah radio stations.

Last week, Sutherland Institute had the opportunity to meet with Tarren Bragdon while he was in Utah’s capital. Tarren is CEO of the Foundation for Government Accountability – also known as the FGA – an independent, nonprofit policy organization based in Naples, Florida. With a focus on healthcare and welfare issues, the FGA works with policy makers in about 20 states helping them fix big-government and broken healthcare and welfare programs. Among their priorities is freeing people from dependence on government and helping them move on to a better life.

Medicaid expansion is a significant topic across the nation. A number of states have decided to expand while others have not. As Utah is in the process of working toward making that decision, Bragdon discussed with Sutherland key elements of this important issue that he and his colleagues are addressing as they meet with legislators and decision-makers across the nation. In the videotaped interview, Tarren talked about Medicaid expansion in general and briefly about the Healthy Utah Plan proposed by Governor Herbert.

In the brief, 14-minute interview, he describes the informative experience of states that have made the decision to expand Medicaid and, with the body of information now emerging, he highlights points of particular relevance he believes Utah policy-makers should keep in mind as they work through the decision process:

Essentially, what you have right now is the federal government dangling this promise of federal money in front of the states, hoping the states will embrace this Medicaid expansion voluntarily because they want this federal money to flow into their states. But what we’re seeing is that just like with almost every welfare expansion, that the prediction of how much it would cost is very different than the reality. And so we’re seeing states already having dramatically higher enrollment in Medicaid expansion than what they projected and dramatically higher costs. It turns out these individuals are much more expensive to cover than single moms. And so states are already seeing this as a budget buster. In states like Arkansas, the state taxpayers are on the hook for tens of millions of dollars just in the first year.

He then explains what this means for the most vulnerable populations – for whom Medicaid was implemented in the first place:

What that has meant in the states, and we’ve already seen this happen, is they will cut back Medicaid programs when times are tough for those most vulnerable populations because those are the populations who they have the lower match for. … Typically, lawmakers focus on making those cuts to the most vulnerable. We saw this in Arizona where, when the Medicaid expansion for childless adults got out of control, the Legislature voted to cut heart and lung transplants.

Continue reading

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Video: The risks of Medicaid expansion and Healthy Utah

What is the significance of the numbers 1, 3 and 10 when it comes to Medicaid expansion? Watch this video to find out:

In this interview, Tarren Bragdon, CEO of the Foundation for Government Accountability (FGA), and Stan Rasmussen, director of public affairs for Sutherland Institute, discuss Medicaid expansion in general and the Healthy Utah Plan proposed by Governor Gary Herbert.

Bragdon, whose nonprofit is based in Naples, Fla., talks about the experiences of states that have made the decision to expand Medicaid – and why Utah should be wary of the “free” federal money offered for expanding Medicaid.

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Ethanol: How politics takes an interest in you

Cornrows“Politics isn’t for me.”

“I’m too busy with everyday life to bother with politics.”

These are refrains we often hear and perhaps have said ourselves. The problem with this thinking, however, is that politics affects our daily lives with ever-increasing regularity.

The Athenian general Pericles famously said, “Just because you do not take an interest in politics doesn’t mean politics won’t take an interest in you.”

How true this has turned out to be! Take, for instance, something as mundane as going to the grocery store. You’d think there’s no politics in groceries, right? It’s just a farmer selling a customer a head of lettuce, or a baker selling a loaf of bread, right?

Nope. Politics has taken an interest in food.

Between 2006 and 2013 food prices increased 22 percent, far more than prices of other goods. This cost the average family an additional $2,000 a year and came at a time when jobs were scarcer and wages weren’t increasing. What caused this drastic rise in the price of your groceries?

Or, more specifically, the federal government’s mandate that a certain amount of biofuel be added to your gasoline. So instead of farmers planting crops based on what you buy at the grocery store, they switched to corn en masse. Suddenly, there was less of every other crop being grown, and we all got a lesson in Econ 101’s supply-and-demand cycle.

But this mandate didn’t just affect prices of vegetables and grains. You see, the federal government’s biofuel requirements were so hefty that even after growers switched their fields to corn, there still wasn’t enough to go around. So corn prices went up too. And everything that depends upon the price of corn feed went up – meat, poultry, dairy. Not only are vegetables more expensive, but so is milk, cheese and butter. We’re talking the very staples of Americans’ dinners.

Why would our politicians do something like this? And why wouldn’t they fix it at a time of massive job losses and stagnant wages?

When enough citizens ignore politics, it amplifies the influence of those who do take an interest in what government can do. There’s money to be made when government arbitrarily increases the price of food – and those who make that money don’t say, “I’m too busy to bother with politics.” They are acutely aware of how politics take an interest in you.

Rejection of a faraway government meddling in our daily lives is what this nation was founded upon. An engaged citizenry voting for good representation is the only way to keep it.

Want to dig deeper? Click here to explore this topic at Utah Citizen Network.

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Energy development boosts poor and middle class

Oil_wellAmid the agonizingly slow recovery from the last recession, policy-makers on both sides of the aisle have turned their focus to improving economic mobility for the poor and economic security for the middle class. So from the political left we hear calls to raise the minimum wage, and from the political right we hear proposals to expand the Earned Income Tax Credit and reform welfare programs.

But based on the results of a recently published study from the National Bureau of Economic Research, it seems there is another policy path toward addressing poverty and middle-income security: developing energy resources.

The researchers report that a boom in oil and gas production and employment has significant, positive impacts on nearby employment in manufacturing. This is “because many manufacturers in resource-abundant counties supply inputs to the oil and gas sector, while many others sell locally traded goods and benefit from increases in local demand.” The researchers conclude that their study “highlight[s] how linkages to natural resources can be a driver of manufacturing growth.”

How is this link relevant to economic mobility and security? Jobs on manufacturing and energy development have historically been vehicles for individuals with limited formal education and job skills to move up the economic ladder, and for middle-income families to secure and maintain their advantageous economic position. Subsequently, increasing job opportunities in both sectors through energy resource development has the potential to simultaneously strengthen economic mobility for the poor and economic security for the middle class.

In Utah, this is magnified by the fact that much of the energy resources in the state reside in more rural areas, where economic development and job opportunities can be limited. In other words, energy development and manufacturing growth provide greater possibilities for rural Utah to keep younger generations in the area and/or bring in new people, instead of losing or never having a chance with them because most good job opportunities are to be found in more urbanized areas and cities.

As policymakers consider ways to use policy to provide new economic opportunities to the poor or to shore up the position and outlook of the middle class, they should remember the potential of energy development to do both.

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Video: Arthur Brooks, Sen. Mike Lee at Sutherland event

AEI president Arthur Brooks speaks at a Sutherland dinner with his characteristic optimism and humor. (Photo © Sutherland Institute)

AEI president Arthur Brooks speaks at a Sutherland dinner with his characteristic optimism and humor. (Photo © Sutherland Institute)

If you haven’t had a chance to watch our video of Sen. Mike Lee and AEI president Arthur Brooks sharing ideas for fighting poverty, now’s a good time! Click on the photo at left.

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